Since last year I’ve been working with EastEnders as their Sling Advisor consulting on matters related to slings, most recently I have been involved with Stacey’s Postpartum Psychosis storyline.
EastEnders want to portray safe and true to life babywearing. More and more parents are using slings to carry their babies and are seeing the many physical, emotional and psychological benefits that carrying your baby close can bring to family life and for families experiencing perinatal mental illness. It is important for the media to reflect this and show safe and ergonomic slings with optimal positioning (read more about this below), as EastEnders have done so well.
Stacey suffers from Bipolar Disorder and following the birth of her son Arthur on Christmas Eve she has developed a serious and rare perinatal mental illness called Postpartum Psychosis that affects approximately 1 to 2 in every 1000 mothers. Symptoms include mania, severe depression, confusion and delusions. EastEnders have been working closely with women with lived experience and mental health charities to make sure Postpartum Psychosis is represented as accurately as possible.
So, where does the sling come into all of this? I met with the EastEnders team to discuss how the sling could work with the storyline and which sling would best suit Stacey and her newborn baby Arthur with her escalating Postpartum Psychosis. We decided that a stretchy wrap would work best taking into account the many factors that need to be considered.
Stacey wants to keep Arthur safe and out of danger; it is a common misconception that mums experiencing Postpartum Psychosis (or indeed other perinatal mental illnesses) want to harm their babies, but in fact this is incredibly rare. Stacey is able to keep Arthur close to her wrapped in the sling and is continuing to care for him and meet all of his needs.
Photo: BBC/Jack Burns
We have seen Stacey carrying Arthur in the sling a lot and coming out to breastfeed, for nappy changes and at other times for in arms carrying. This way of carrying is very true to life and it is safe and comfortable for the baby to be in the sling as he is being carried in a supported position.
A stretchy wrap or other soft sling such as a Close Caboo, which was used with Lauren Branning earlier in 2015, are great for newborn babies and what most new parents tend to use. A stretchy wrap (like any other ergonomic carrier) supports the natural posture of the baby with the knees higher than the bottom in a squatted position (as seen on the left). Most high street bought narrow based carriers tend not to adopt this optimal position and although not harmful, they are not always the most comfortable option for both baby and parent.
Due to lack of head control in the early months it is also very easy for babies to slump down. It is therefore important to use a sling that is tight and supports an upright position to ensure that the airways are clear. Baby should be held high in the sling or carrier so that the baby’s head is close enough to kiss and they are in view at all times.
The way Stacey is carrying Arthur in the sling is following the safety guidelines referred to as TICKS (see bottom for full TICKS leaflet):
In view at all times
Close enough to kiss
Keep chin off the chest
Part of my role has been to make sure all of this is being done with Arthur in the sling. The sling is nice and tight, he is upright and high and the spine and hips are well supported.
A soft sling also supports the 4th trimester and eases the transition from womb to world for baby due to the close skin contact, constant movement and noise and being tightly wrapped as if back in the womb.
Babies carried in slings cry less and are calmer. Also, using a sling can help regulate sleep patterns and due to the upright position help with colic and reflux; all things that can make parenting a little easier, particularly through a perinatal mental illness.
Often people think of the practical reasons why a parent might use a sling to carry their baby and indeed there lots of ways that a sling can make life easier for parents. From being able to carry out household tasks hands free or getting out and about with ease or looking after an older sibling, to being able to implement any form of self-care, which can be so hard as a new mum.
Looking beyond the practicalities there is so much more a sling can do for our emotional and psychological wellbeing. It promotes bonding and attachment with baby because of the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin that is released whilst holding baby close to the body, therefore reducing low mood, anxiety and stress.
Using a sling helps to establish and maintain breastfeeding due to the oxytocin release and being able to pick up on baby’s feeding cues more easily than if he/she were separated. It can also help with bonding for mums who are unable to breastfeed or have time away from their babies in the early days, weeks or months.
All of these reasons can help to make a new mum (and dad) feel more in control, independent and competent in their abilities as parents and thus increase confidence and a greater sense of wellbeing.
We must remember that babywearing is not a replacement for medical and psychiatric treatment or other therapies, but it can support individuals and families experiencing and recovering from perinatal illness in numerous ways depending on the condition, symptoms and personal circumstances.
It has been amazing being involved in Stacey’s Postpartum Psychosis storyline and working with EastEnders, Lacey and the babies! EastEnders have worked really hard to ensure that all aspects are researched and depicted well, including using the sling. It has been an honour to be able to promote safe babywearing that will reach millions of viewers and to raise awareness of something that I am so passionate about and has made a huge difference to my own journey as a parent and through my experience and recovery through my postnatal depression.
If you would like to learn more about Stacey’s stretchy wrap or other slings then you can do this through the many sling consultants and sling libraries that there are across the country. It is important to get support from experienced and trained professionals who can provide information on the many types of slings that are available, help you find what will work for you and your baby, as well as educate on the importance of safety and what to do to make sure your baby is comfortable and you get the most out of your sling too.
You can get details of sling resources in your area here: www.slingpages.co.uk